Last week I hope you all enjoyed the Christmas Day gift of seeing every Eastern Conference team's best player compared to an NBA legend. Well, to ring in the New Year, it's time to compare the best of the West to legends of years gone by.
Are Dirk Nowitzki's fall-away, one-legged jumpers all that unique? Is Kevin Durant's silky smooth game the first of its kind? Has anyone ever pump faked as much Utah's Al Jefferson?
The answers to these all-important questions lay ahead. Also on the horizon here is perspective on just how much the game has boldly changed, yet oddly remained the same over the decades. With more than 60 years of NBA basketball, uniquely talented players often forge their own paths that unwittingly intersect with the skills and styles of previous players.
So let's see who Tim Duncan, Chris Paul, James Harden and others compare to favorably over the years.
*All statistics via basketball-reference.com and are accurate as of noon ET on January 1, 2013
Dirk Nowitzki - 7'0'', 237 lbs.
22.8 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 47.5% FG, 38.0% 3PT, 87.8% FT
Red Robbins - 6'8'', 190 lbs.
13.1 PPG, 10.5 RPG, 46.6% FG, 30.5% 3PT, 81.8% FT
Back in the ABA of the late 1960s, Red Robbins was a tenacious rebounder routinely staking out double-digit rebound games. However, what separated Robbins from previous big men was his ability to hit the three-pointer. Of course, the NBA didn’t adopt the three-point shot until the 1979-80 season, but the ABA was using the shot right from that league's inception in 1967.
By 1972, Robbins was connecting on 41 percent of his three-pointers. That season he also nailed 50 percent of all his field goals and more than 80 percent of his free throws. Dirk Nowitzki has been a good rebounder, but has never come close to Robbins’ 16 rebounds per game in 1970. But Nowitzki has accomplished Red’s proficient shooting from all areas of the floor, despite being a big forward.
Nowitzki replicated Robbins’ feat of 50/40/80 in 2007. Dirk actually upped the ante by shooting over 90 percent from the free-throw line. He’s doing a spectacular job of building upon Robbins’ pioneering ability to shoot from all spots on the floor.
Andre Iguodala - 6'6", 207 lbs.
15.2 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 4.8 APG, 1.7 SPG, 46.0% FG, 73.5% FT
Randy Smith - 6'3", 180 lbs.
16.7 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 4.6 APG, 1.7 SPG, 47.0% FG, 78.1% FT
Andre Iguodala towers above Randy Smith in physical stature, but these two men played a fantastically similar game. In their respective eras, it is hard to find a player better than these two at on-the-ball defense.
A key difference between the two is that Randy Smith turned himself into a potent scoring force. Four times he averaged above 20 PPG. While Iguodala has yet to master scoring the ball, that doesn’t mean Andre is a drain on the offense. To the contrary, he’s one of the better passing forwards in the game. Randy Smith, although not a “pure” point guard, worked himself into a very fine passer too as his career went on.
Also, don't let the height discrepancy fool you. Andre Iguodala is a well-noted dunker, but Randy Smith could get way up and throw down despite his short stature.
For more on Randy Smith's outstanding career, check out this article.
David Lee - 6'9", 249 lbs.
14.6 PPG, 9.7 RPG, 2.3 APG, 53.9% FG, 78.0% FT
Ed Macauley - 6'8", 185 lbs.
17.5 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 3.2 APG, 43.6% FG, 76.1% FT
Big men who can pass, score and rebound are always appreciated. Better yet if they score at efficient clips from the field and from the free-throw line. And it’s best if they’re from St. Louis.
Fortunately, “Easy Ed” Macauley and David Lee fit all of the above. Starring for the Boston Celtics in the 1950s, Ed Macauley was one of the best scoring big men in the league. He had a great jumper, distinctively kicking up both legs as he shot and a fantastic hook shot that helped him lead the league in FG percentage twice. During his best years (1951-55), Macauley was good for 19 PPG, 8.5 RPG and four PG.
Golden State’s David Lee continues the Macauley tradition. Over the past four seasons he's averaging around 19 PPG, 10.5 RPG and 3.5 APG. In a final sign of eerie similarity, Macauley was the first player to average over 20 PPG, nine RPG and 3.5 APG back in 1951. David Lee is currently the only player maintaining that season average.
James Harden - 6'5", 220 lbs.
14.3 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 2.8 APG, 44.4% FG, 84.1% FT
Gail Goodrich - 6'1", 170 lbs.
18.6 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 4.7 APG, 45.6% FG, 80.7% FT
Back in the 1970s, Gail Goodrich was one of the more unstoppable scoring machines in the NBA. Yes, he was equipped to play point guard, but at 6'1" he was still better utilized as the main scoring threat on a team.
Like James Harden, Goodrich possessed maddening knack to penetrate the lane and get treasure troves of foul shots. Goodrich was also great at working off the ball to create space for open jumpers thanks to the passing by Wilt Chamberlain out of the post.
But where Harden and Goodrich have the most similarity is that both played in the shadows of two stars early in their career. Harden, of course, was coming off the bench for Oklahoma City in relief of Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. Meanwhile, in the late 1960s, Gail Goodrich was coming off the bench in support of Jerry West and Elgin Baylor.
Harden's trade to Houston has blossomed his opportunities and the same happened for Goodrich when he was taken by Phoenix in the expansion draft of 1968. Goodrich later found himself back with the Lakers, but as a full-time starter and big-time player. Let's see if Harden can maintain his Goodrich-like tale over the coming years.
Chris Paul - 6'0", 175 lbs.
18.7 PPG, 9.8 APG, 4.4 RPG, 2.4 SPG, 47.2% FG, 35.9% 3PT, 85.6% FT
John Stockton - 6'1", 170 lbs.
13.1 PPG, 10.5 APG, 2.7 RPG, 2.2 SPG, 51.5% FG, 38.4% 3PT, 82.6% FT
I hate to go with the obvious, but sometimes the obvious is the best choice.
Chris Paul and John Stockton are the ultimate dictatorial point guards on both sides of the ball. They masterfully orchestrate their team's offense, can thread needles with impunity and each could turn into fine scorers when the occasion called for it.
On defense, they could flummox and annihilate the opposing point guard with physical, unceasing on-the-ball pressure. Also, check out those steals per game numbers. They didn't just frustrate the opponent, they could rip the ball away from him outright or pilfer the ball via the passing lanes.
One final commonality is their annoyance. John Stockton was a player you hated unless you were a Jazz fan, because his physical play sometimes bordered on dirty. Chris Paul, in the name of annoyance, has an irksome trait of suddenly halting his dribble to force a defender to run into him and thus drawing a foul.
These crafty quibbles aside, these two point guards are two of the best we'll ever see play the game.
Kobe Bryant - 6'6", 200 lbs.
25.5 PPG, 4.7 APG, 5.3 RPG, 1.5 SPG, 45.4% FG, 83.8% FT
Ron Boone - 6'2", 200 lbs.
16.8 PPG, 3.7 APG, 4.2 RPG, 1.3 SPG, 46.1% FG, 38.4% 3PT, 83.7% FT
A four-time All-Star in the ABA, Ron Boone is a great player to compare with Kobe Bryant.
Boone was a tenacious defender and merciless attacker of the rim. He was one of the toughest and most durable players of his era. Only in his final season, 1984-85, did he miss any significant number of games and actually played in 86 games during the ABA’s 1970-71 season.
That 86-game season came by virtue of a trade from the Texas Chaparrals to the Utah Stars. While with the Stars, Coach Bill Sharman had to alter Boone’s game from that of a free-form offensive artist to one contained within a cohesive system based on ball movement. No matter the offense, Boone was always able to hit open jumpers but in a streaky fashion.
Kobe Bryant’s career has followed a similar pattern. He’s durable despite suffering from a variety of maladies and often clashes with the offensive schemes imposed by his coaches. Bryant was a first-rate defender for years and is a good jump shooter, but is prone to hot or cold streaks, especially from downtown.
Fun Boone fact: He's the only person to play for the ABA's Utah Stars and the NBA's Utah Jazz.
Marc Gasol - 7'1", 265 lbs.
13.2 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 2.5 APG, 1.6 BPG, 0.9 SPG, 52.5% FG, 73.5% FT
Dave Cowens - 6'9", 230 lbs.
17.6 PPG, 13.6 RPG, 3.8 APG, 0.9 BPG, 1.1 SPG, 46.0% FG, 78.3% FT
A few NBA players have hustled as hard as Dave Cowens but none have hustled harder than the Celtics center. But beyond Cowens skidding across the floor for loose balls, he was a vital cog of Boston’s offense in the 1970s. Cowens contributed to Boston’s offense with deft passing, mid-range jump shots and offensive rebounding.
Marc Gasol contributes in much the same fashion, particularly with his jumpers and passing. He is several inches taller than Cowens, so Gasol has an even better vantage point to toss his passes. This season Gasol is averaging a career-high 3.9 assists per game. That’s getting him into Cowens territory, and that’s not a bad thing. The Celtics won two titles in the 1970s thanks in no small part to Cowens’ stellar play.
Kevin Love - 6'10", 260 lbs.
17.4 PPG, 12.2 RPG, 1.9 APG, 45.0% FG, 81.3% FT
Dolph Schayes - 6'7", 195 lbs.
18.5 PPG, 12.1 RPG, 3.1 APG, 38.0% FG, 84.9% FT
Need a power forward that can do some serious rebounding while also nailing jumpers from any place on the court? In the 1950s, your choice would have been Dolph Schayes. In 2013, your answer is likely Kevin Love.
Schayes utilized an outside two-handed set shot from as far away as 25 feet. This would make him a three-point threat in today’s game. Schayes’ main contribution, however, came by controlling the glass. In 1950-51, the first year rebounds were tracked by the NBA, Schayes led the league with more than 16 rebounds per game.
Kevin Love is having a disappointing 2012-13 season thus far in terms of shooting. He is struggling mightily to maintain a respectable field goal percentage. However, his rebounding is no worse for the wear.
Fun Schayes fact: He was the first NBA player to grab more than 10,000 rebounds for a career.
Anthony Davis - 6'10", 220 lbs.
14.7 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 1.9 BPG, 1.1 SPG, 49.2% FG, 82.4% FT
Larry Nance - 6'10", 205 lbs.
17.1 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 2.2 BPG, 0.9 SPG, 54.6% FG, 75.5% FT
If Anthony Davis can replicate Larry Nance’s career, the New Orleans Hornets have an exciting decade ahead of them. Nance was a power forward who could defend, rebound, block, score and dunk. Davis may not dunk as well as Nance right now, but he’s well on his way to achieving Nance's proficiency in all these areas.
His defense of the rim, as the power forward, is reminiscent of Nance, who was the warden of the painted area for the Cleveland Cavaliers and Phoenix Suns in the 1980s. The one area where Davis can improve, in comparison to Nance, is in raising his field goal percentage. Nance never shot below 50 percent from the field in his career until his final, injury-riddled season.
Davis is already a fine free-throw shooter though. Nance didn't achieve 80 percent from the line until late in his career. Hopefully he continues to replicate the magnificence of Nance's playing style and career.
Kevin Durant - 6'9", 215 lbs.
26.4 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 2.9 APG, 1.2 SPG, 1.0 BPG, 47.1% FG, 88.0% FT
George Gervin - 6'7", 180 lbs.
25.1 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 2.6 APG, 1.2 SPG, 1.0 BPG, 50.4% FG, 84.1% FT
Tall, lean and mean, George Gervin was an unstoppable scoring machine for the San Antonio Spurs. The Ice Man could score an effortless and silent 30 points every night. Even his signature move was subdued and understated. The finger roll doesn’t loudly demand your attention like a rim-shaking dunk.
Kevin Durant scores in a similar way. Watching him play, one does realize he’s racking up points. However, checking out the box score often reveals a higher total than you thought.
Both of these smooth cats not only score a lot, but they also score efficiently. Their shooting numbers are some of the best ever seen from prolific wing scorers. And prolific they are. Durant has captured three scoring titles already and Gervin snagged four during his long career.
Goran Dragic - 6'4", 180 lbs.
8.7 PG, 3.7 APG, 2.2 RPG, 44.4% FG, 73.3% FT
Guy Rodgers - 6'0", 185 lbs.
11.7 PPG, 7.8 APG, 4.3 RPG, 37.8% FG, 72.1% FT
Goran Dragic is a fine point guard, but if you want your team to advance in the postseason, he shouldn’t be your best player. He’s a fine passer, but curiously struggles from the free-throw line. Also, Goran has, until this season, struggled to emerge from the shadows of teammates such as Steve Nash and Kyle Lowry.
Guy Rodgers faced similar problems back in the 1960s. He was a tremendous passer and led the NBA in assists per game twice. Yet he couldn’t make a free throw for the first half of his career and struggled to gain proper notoriety behind bigger stars such as teammates Wilt Chamberlain, Paul Arizin and Nate Thurmond.
Rodgers had his moment in the sun as the marquee player on a team in the late 1960s as a member of the expansion Chicago Bulls, but the team wasn’t all that successful, much like Dragic’s current Suns team. Again, they’re really good point guards, but their respective teams weren’t served best when they were the best players.
LaMarcus Aldridge - 6'11", 240 lbs.
18.0 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 1.8 APG, 1.0 BPG, 0.8 SPG, 49.3% FG, 78.1% FT
Terry Cummings - 6'9", 220 lbs.
16.4 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 1.6 APG, 0.6 BPG, 0.9 SPG, 48.4% FG, 70.6% FT
Terry Cummings was a stellar power forward in the NBA for a decade. He was a two-time All-Star and deservedly won Rookie of the Year in 1983 over Dominique Wilkins and James Worthy, yet remains underappreciated. He was sinewy in his strength, power and speed. He could run a break, post up, hit a mid-range jumper and rebound effectively.
LaMarcus Aldridge seems on course for a Terry Cummings-like career. Aldridge has had a number of All-Star-caliber seasons, but has only had one All-Star selection to his credit. He can score on post ups and mid-range jumpers and is an effective rebounder. He may go largely unappreciated, but to the true connoisseur, Aldridge will take a place alongside Cummings as a legitimate power forward great.
Tyreke Evans - 6'6'', 220 lbs.
18.0 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 5.1 APG, 44.2% FG, 76.5% FT
Tom Gola - 6'6", 205 lbs.
11.3 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 4.2 APG, 43.1% FG, 76.0% FT
Tom Gola was the common link of success for the Philadelphia Warriors and also their failure. An all-around guard/forward, Gola’s addition in 1956 gave the Warriors a shot of scoring, rebounding and passing that propelled them to a title. His loss to the military in 1957 proved disastrous; his return in 1958 launched Philly back to playoff success.
Tyreke Evans hasn’t meant that level of success for the Sacramento Kings, but he exhibits an all-around game reminiscent of Gola. Tyreke also straddles the line of guard and forward. Evans’ trouble so far seems to be coaches needing to define him position-wise instead of defining him by role.
Gola benefited from having good teammates that allowed him to play his role as glue guy instead of being slotted into a predetermined position. Hopefully Evans can find that squad that allows him to play a role instead of being forced into a position.
Tim Duncan - 6'11", 248 lbs.
20.2 PPG, 11.2 RPG, 3.1 APG, 2.2 BPG, 0.7 SPG, 50.7% FG, 69.0% FT
Dan Roundfield - 6'8", 205 lbs.
14.3 PPG, 9.2 RPG, 2.0 APG, 1.4 BPG, 0.9 SPG, 48.2% FG, 73.5% FT
Tim Duncan and Dan Roundfield stand proudly as two of the best defenders ever seen in the post. Roundfield made his way onto five straight All-Defensive teams from 1980 through 1984 with the Atlanta Hawks. He was strong as an ox and agile too, guarding the best forward or center from the opposing team. Tim Duncan put together an even greater streak of 12 straight All-Defensive teams from 1999 to 2010.
Even though they functioned as lockdown defenders, both players provided ample offensive production too. Duncan has a world-famous bank shot to go with a host of other great offensive moves. Roundfield, although not as prolific as Duncan, peaked in his offensive production in the early 1980s with 19 PPG in 1983 and 1984.
Al Jefferson - 6'10", 265 lbs.
16.3 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 1.4 BPG, 49.9% FG, 71.7% FT
Vin Baker -
15.0 PPG, 7.4 RPG,1.0 BPG, 48.5% FG, 63.8% FT
Vin Baker was a bit faster than Al Jefferson, but both players were offensive savants in the post. Baker had a lithe frame that contorted and angled its way into scoring position. His best days in Milwaukee and Seattle were filled with graceful turn around shots and hooks from the low block.
Similarly, Al Jefferson has a number of excellent post moves. Furthermore, both players have created consternation over the years. Straddling the fence between power forward and center has often created matchup problems for their own clubs. And neither one of these men has been very good at defense.
Sadly, alcohol abuse and weight problems would ultimately derail Baker’s career and have obscured how good he was before those issues befell him.